Santorini, part of the Cyclades island group, is one of the most romantic and glamorous of the Greek Islands. An enormous volcano destroyed the island four thousand years ago, causing most of it to collapse into a vast caldera now hidden beneath the Aegean Sea, leaving only a crescent-shaped strip of land visible. Whitewashed villages are strung out along the rim of the caldera, a towering lava-striped cliff, and offer some of the most unforgettable views over the sea. Santorini’s famed sunset views, impossibly picturesque villages, its multi-hued beaches and turquoise seas are complemented by a unique local cuisine, excellent wines and welcoming people. No wonder this enchanting island attracts one and a half million tourists annually.
If you want even more ideas for what to see and do on this beautiful Greek Island, take a look at these fifteen reasons to visit Santorini.
Most popular hotels in Santorini
Mediterranean Beach Hotel
Santorini Kastelli Resort
Blue Sea Hotel
At a glance
- Currency: Euro
- Language: Greek
- Time Zone: GMT +2
- Average flight time: 3h 55m
When to go
(°C) Avg. High Temp
The main commercial hub is the string of whitewashed towns and villages perched dramatically on the edge of the caldera. Fira is the vibrant island capital, a whitewashed tumble of cubic houses. Beyond it are the villages of Firostefani and then Imerovigli, which stands at the highest point of the caldera and is known as the ‘Balcony of the Aegean’ for its tremendous views. The villages are linked with a path, which takes about 30 minutes to stroll. At the northern top of the caldera’s edge is the chi chi enclave of Oia, loftily set above a tiny port and also blessed with breathtaking views.
The highest village on the island is Pyrgos, which was the capital until the 19th century and is still crowned by a handsome and substantially intact castle. It’s a lively little spot, packed with restaurants and cafes, and also enjoys sweeping views across the island and out to sea. Few ancient ruins have survived the volcanoes that have devastated Santorini over the centuries, but in Akrotiri you can admire the remains of a Bronze Age Minoan settlement. Finds from the excavation are displayed in Fira’s excellent Museum of Prehistoric Thera. (Thera was Santorini’s name in Classical times, and its official name is currently Thira.)
The curious lava beaches of Santorini are also a big attraction, although they are quite unlike the golden sand you’ll find on other Greek islands. The beaches on the east coast feature dark basalt sand, while those on the south (Red Beach in particular) are famous for their multi-coloured sands. There are water sports galore, but scuba diving and snorkelling are especially popular.
Inland, you can explore traditional villages and vineyards (the island has a long wine-making tradition), and enjoy some of the fantastic hikes across the island.
Wine and Dine
Islanders claim the abundant fresh produce grown on Santorini is sweeter and tastier than anywhere else, thanks to the rich volcanic soil. The local tomatoes, fava beans, white aubergines, capers, cucumbers and other veggies form the basis for lots of delicious recipes, including Domatokeftedes (tomato fritters), poulia yemista (stuffed courgette flowers), and Santorini salad (a Greek salad topped with the local chlorotyri cheese). Seafood, as you might expect from an island, features prominently on menus, along with rabbit and cured pork.
The regional wines also benefit from the volcanic soil, and Santorini’s wineries produce some excellent crisp, dry white wines from the indigenous assyrtiko grapes. Rosé and red wines are also available. Don’t miss the vinsanto, a sweet, amber-coloured wine that has been produced here for centuries. You could also try the local ‘Donkey’ beer, which is brewed on the island.
Santorini doesn’t offer major theme parks or much in the way of glitzy attractions, but it does offer life’s simple pleasures in spades – perfect for enjoying with the family. Kids will marvel at the volcanic sand beaches, and enjoy splashing about in the crystal-clear sea. There are fantastic boat trips around the caldera, which will keep kids gripped with fascination.
Then there is the amazing panoramic path that links the caldera villages from Fira to Imerovigli: everyone gathers in Imerovigli to watch the sunset and applauds when the sun slips over the horizon, which kids always enjoy. Older kids will enjoy the opportunities for snorkelling and other water sports, and might enjoy the lively cafés and shops of Fira. If you want to introduce them to the island culture, take them to visit the ancient Minoan ruins of Akrotiri. You could also take in the charming Lignos Folklore Museum in Fira, which has a reproduction of a 19th-century cave house and displays of local crafts. Eating out with the family is a pleasure on Santorini: the locals dote on children, and almost all kids enjoy Greek cuisine.
Action and Adventure
One of the most satisfying adventures on Santorini is the hike along the caldera’s edge from Fira to Oia. This takes around 4 hours, and, if you time it right, you can arrive in time to take the steep zig-zag path down to the little port of Ammoudi to enjoy a delicious supper in one of the harbourfront taverns. There are scores of great hiking routes across the island, or you could rent a mountain bike for some off-road biking. Santorini is one of the best diving destinations in Greece, with a fabulous marine landscape that includes submerged caves to explore. Take a cruise around the caldera lake and you’ll be taken to some of the best, hidden swimming spots, as well as being able to enjoy dramatic views of the little white villages strung out like icing sugar on the caldera’s edge. A visit to the volcanic island of Palia Kameni, in the middle of the caldera, includes a chance to take a tip in natural hot springs.
Life's a Beach
Santorini’s beaches are not the golden strands found on other Greek Islands, but remarkable stretches of black and red volcanic sand. The most popular are Kamari and Perissa, which, like most of the island beaches, are on the east coast. These are the two best equipped beaches, with sun loungers, lifeguards, facilities for water sports and plenty of tavernas and restaurants within easy reach. They are stunning, dark sand beaches fringed by cliffs, and the sea is blissfully clear – ideal for snorkelling. Perivolos adjoins Perissa and has much the same range of amenities, plus scores of lively bars.
Further north, Monolithos beach is one of the best for families, with finer sand than elsewhere and shallow waters. Vlichada beach is also known as ‘moon beach’ for its surreal rock formations, which resemble a lunar landscape. Catamarans depart from here to explore the caldera.
Santorini’s most spectacular cove is Red Beach (Kókkini Ámmos), which is close to the Akrotiri archaeological site. The sand is a spectacular vivid red, and the bay is framed by ochre cliffs.
Near Oia, there are the little beaches at Baxedes and Kouloumbos: Baxedes has lovely views and Kouloumbus has a small taverna.
The island capital of Fira is where most of Santorini’s nightlife is concentrated, with everything from traditional bars where you can catch some live Greek music to jazz bars and lavish nightclubs. There are more fun nightspots in the popular seaside resorts of Kamari, Perissa and, in particular, Perivolos, which attracts a younger crowd. Some of the bigger clubs have indoor and outdoor dance floors, and you can expect the party to last most of the night. In the peak season, beach parties are organised in many of the larger resorts. For a more relaxed and sophisticated vibe, head to Oia, perched vertiginously on the northern tip of the caldera, which has several intimate cocktail bars.
Santorini’s famous sunsets and picture-postcard villages are the perfect backdrop for a romantic holiday with your partner. No wonder it’s such a popular honeymoon destination. Oia is the most beautiful and romantic of all the sunset viewing points, its sinuous whitewashed streets dotted with taverns and cocktail bars that ooze charm. The walking path that links the caldera towns of Fira and Imerovigli offers more panoramic views and is a deeply romantic thing to do as the sun is setting. The beaches are spectacular, particularly the famous Red Beach, which enjoys stunning views. You could also tour the island’s vineyards, or take a cruise out to the volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni, in the middle of the caldera, which include a stop at the hot springs. And if you like nightlife, you’ll find plenty of fantastic clubs in the island capital of Fira.
Fira is home to some excellent museums, including the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, which contains well-displayed finds from the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri. The second of the town’s two archaeological museums contains some fine Classical pottery and sculptures. The delightful folklore museum has a recreation of a 19th-century cave house, which explains how the houses were built into the rock in order to protect them from the sun and wind. The ancient site of Akrotiri enjoys a sublime setting and reveals the remains of a Bronze Age Minoan settlement that was completely destroyed by the devastating eruption that occurred around 1620 BC. You can also visit the ruins of castles and watchtowers built across the island by the Venetians, notably in Oia, Imerovigli, Pyrgos, Emporio and Akrotiri.